A Familiar Opponent

Tehran – The final round of qualification for the 2018 World Cup is about to begin in Asia and Team Melli fans in Iran are ready to cheer their national team to victory on 1 September against Qatar in Tehran.

Iran and Qatar faced each other two times in the final round of 2014 qualifying. The first leg ended in a 0-0 draw in June 2012 at a packed Azadi Stadium. It was a frustrating match for Carlos Queiroz and TM as the Qataris came to Tehran and parked the bus.

One year later in a must-win match, Iran were victorious in Doha thanks to Reza Ghoochannejhad pouncing on a loose ball in the penalty area to give Iran the first of three vital wins that led to qualification for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

TM were also grouped with Qatar in the earlier round of 2014 qualifying and both matches ended in draws: 1-1 in Doha and 2-2 in Tehran.

Iran are definitely the favored side entering their match against Qatar in Tehran but we all know that the Qataris always put up a fight. Reza Ghoochannejhad was the hero for Iran last time against Qatar but this time around it is safe to assume that Rostov striker Sardar Azmoun will get the nod up front.

Perhaps Gucci might find himself playing as a winger but after watching Iran under the tutelage of Queiroz since 2011, it is safe to assume that Iran will play a more defensive strategy and probably bring on Gucci as a super sub in the second half.

Iranian football fans will be eager to see the young Rostov midfielder Saeid Ezatolahi in action against Qatar but some may wonder if it is risky to throw the kid from Bandar Anzali into the fire in a crucial qualifying match.

Queiroz does have faith in the young talent he has brought into TM but we all remember Azmoun being left off the final roster for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

The Qataris have naturalized more players recently and it comes as no surprise because they want to show the world that they can qualify to the world cup before hosting it in 2022.

The pressure is on TM but the fact of the matter is that our national team players must enjoy the pressure and seize the opportunity if they want Iran to qualify to consecutive world cups for the first time ever.

The Road to Russia begins at Azadi Stadium on 1 September and the Iranians must show everyone why they are the number one ranked team in Asia.


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